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Cape No. 7 — About 7/10, But Worth Seeing

Friday, October 10, 2008
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Cape No. 7

Dir: Te-sheng Wei (魏德聖)

When a tiny little movie that cost $50 million NTD ($1.6 million USD) to make earns over $350 million NTD (around $11.6 million USD) in just over a month to become the highest-grossing domestic film in Taiwanese history, you kind of have to go see it.

And it’s worth seeing.  While it falls prey to some of the same problems as any rom-com, there’s enough here to differentiate it from the norm and make it an entertaining film.  Not a great, outstanding film, but solidly decent.

The main thing is, dare I say it, it’s set very firmly in ‘modern Taiwan.’  There are four languages used throughout — Mandarin, Taiwanese, Japanese and English — and it’s actually not that hard to find people here who would speak all four, if not fluently, at least enough to possibly not have to read all the subtitles.  The strength of the film, though, is that it doesn’t belabour this point; it simply tells the story using these languages where they would pop up and the audience just follows along — just as could happen any day here in Taiwan.  It uses the island’s Japanese-colonial past to good effect, overlapping the current, modern-day love story with one from a series of letters from the end of WWII (I won’t say how, obviously — I’m not going to give anything away).  But then this is all mixed in with issues of relevance right now — the struggle of Taiwanese and minorities (such as people from the Hakka tribe) to make a living vs. big, international business (or even just big business from Taipei) hoping to exploit seaside Taiwan for tourist dollars; the understandings and misunderstandings between Taiwanese and Japanese about both the past and present; the relationships between the young and the old.  It’s all thrown together in a believable (well, mostly believable) and funny way, and it’s this structural strength which lifts this above your standard cheesy movie.

Other strengths — it’s pretty funny.  The character of Old Mao is by himself enough to see this movie.  It’s got some nice cinematography, and the acting (aside from a few clunkers) is decent, which is significant since most of the people in the movie were newbies making their first appearances on film.

Weaknesses — as with 99.9% of rom-coms, the love story feels fake and forced.  The female lead is whiny and self-centred, and I can’t see any reason why the guy, who’s sullen and ‘trying to find himself,’ would fall for her.  Plus, the whole ‘love story from the past’ part, while interesting in itself, feels somewhat contrived as a mirroring of the current story.  There are also a few sub-plots that don’t go anywhere, which always irks me.

But other than that, not much to complain about.

It’s making its U.S. debut on Dec. 12 (not sure if this includes Canada too), so if you can find it I’d say go see it.  If you don’t see it in theatres, I’m sure by next year it will be easily rentable.

Or . . . it’s been registered as Taiwan’s submission for the Academy Awards, so you never know — if it grabs the nomination (which probably wouldn’t be deserved, but anyway) you’ll be hearing a lot about it anyway.
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20 Comments leave one →
  1. RCL permalink
    Saturday, October 11, 2008 10:35 pm

    Should also note that the English subtitles were quite atrociously done.

    The film makers had no money so they just got a Taiwanese translator who “does 300 film subtitles a year” and paid her about US$500 to do the subtitles. Unfortunately this lady subsequently admitted in her personal blog that she 1. didn’t speak the original Taiwanese dialect used and had questionable grasp of the meaning of all of the dialogs; 2. had not necessarily always picked the right English expressions because English was not her first language and 3. did a rush and half-baked job due to the low fees given to her.

    So the point is that IN ADDITION to the cultural nuances that are necessarily lost to a non-Taiwanese: unless they go find some professionals to really re-do the subtitles before this is distributed overseas, certain additional nuances will be lost in translation and unfortunately may never be appreciated by non-native speakers.

  2. James17930 permalink
    Saturday, October 11, 2008 11:49 pm

    Interesting. Although I’m sure with the film’s rampant success, and this being a stated problem, they will get them re-done before December.

  3. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, October 12, 2008 9:03 pm

    Some info of interest:

    https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2008/10/13/2003425736

  4. Echo Yen permalink
    Tuesday, October 14, 2008 4:20 am

    This is a movie filled with so many laughters.But while you are laughing, you are tearing as well.
    It has black and has white ; it has dark and bright in it as well; it has the past history and the future glory.
    Obviuosly the movie director Mr. Wei leads all Taiwan audience toward the bright and white side and moving ahead toward the future glory.

  5. Kenny permalink
    Monday, October 20, 2008 10:58 pm

    There were also aboriginal language.

  6. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 5:32 am

    What, Hakka?

  7. Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:29 pm

    No, not Hakka…especially since the Hakka people aren’t aboriginals from Taiwan, they are a sub-grouping of “Han Chinese” that fled to Taiwan a long time ago. That said, 1) a correction should also be made in the review…Hakkanese is another language in Taiwan, as well as people, but they are not Taiwanese aboriginals and 2) yes, there are a few words of aboriginal origin, but I can’t tell you which language they are from.

    Cheers.

  8. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, October 23, 2008 3:36 am

    True, they are not technically Taiwanese aboriginals, but it’s doubtful that many Hakkas now in Taiwan are ‘pure Hakka,’ meaning they only propagated among other Hakkas in Taiwan. Almost all of them now are certainly a mix of other ethnicities as well — Han Chinese, other actual Taiwanese aboriginals etc.

    So, while not aboriginal exactly, they still exist in what has basically been categorized as a minority language and ethnic group. So their plight is still very similar to others of that group, which mostly includes aboriginals.

    But your point is taken; I’ve changed it to ‘minorities.’

  9. Tuesday, October 28, 2008 1:03 am

    For RCL (and James),

    Do you truly think that the translation was “atrociously done?” I think such comment was unfair for the lady.

    Apart from the fact that the translater admitted she had a questionable grasp of Taiwanese, (I think she was just being modest. I speak Taiwanese for more than 20 years, I’d hesitate to say that I “grasp the meaning” of Taiwanese slangs.) I believe the subtitles of Cape. No. 7 are obviously much better than any of the HK movies.

    If you consider the word limit within each line and the complexity to translate Mandarin and Taiwanese to English, the translator had conveyed 80% of what the director wanted to say to the audience, if not 100%, which was definitely out of the question.

    You and James both speak decent English, I can tell from your writing, (oops. or are you two native speakers of English?) Would you take the job as a translator and withstand the criticism from the audience?

    It might sound a bit offensive, but that’s not what I mean. I mean, really, if Director gave you this job, can you be assured that you are able to pick the right English expression for Taiwanese?

    With kind regards,
    Yvonne

  10. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:43 am

    Well, no, they weren’t atrocious — they got the job done and I can’t say I ever felt bewildered by anything; however, they definitely aren’t good enough for a North American release. There were spelling mistakes and a few phrases that didn’t quite make sense. So they will still need to be redone.

    Actually, I found the longer Japanese lines to be the ones where I most lost the meaning, which makes sense they were more archaic in phrasing; but a really good translator will be able to tighten them up a bit, I think.

  11. Wednesday, October 29, 2008 6:02 am

    Dear James,

    I watched the movie again yesterday to make sure what I felt for the movie was not overwhelmed by the craze of
    “Yeah, I’m Taiwanese, we should be proud of our own culture and… hum. vulgarness.”

    Regret to say, I still think that NT$500 Mil of box office revenue is unbelievable and the fan’s repeated recommendations are just overstatement.
    To me, the quality and the joyfulness of Cape can never reach beyond An Lee’s Wedding Banquet or Pushing Hand.

    First, I don’t believe people down south are so vulgar that they would yell “Cow-Yao. You shut up!” to a Japanese lady. My colleague, who’s totally fallen for the movie said that the man was just saying it like a pet phrase, it’s an expletive in a sentence. But actually they way he said it sounded just like a curse to me. The director was exaggerating. People say fuck or damn it occasionally, but I’ve never met any Taiwanese that curses a stranger like that.

    Second, it’s a bit difficult to see the theme of the movie. There are not enough lines to build up the story. It’s a movie meant to be in 20 minutes, but somehow, in order to make it to the big screen, it was expanded to 120 minutes. Also, the director, who apparently is a nice guy, gave every actor 10 minutes of chance to perform. It’s like, there you go, you act. he acts. and everybody acts. Let’s all act for ten minutes! There’s no leading characters…..

  12. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, October 29, 2008 7:53 am

    Yeah, that’s what I meant by sub-plots which go nowhere — too many minor characters having too much screen time.

  13. Wendy permalink
    Wednesday, November 5, 2008 9:31 pm

    Dear BB

    The word “cow-yao” if translated directly is “cry short-life” and it is an expletive in a sentence.

    You never met any Taiwanese saying it because urban young educated people especially those don’t say that. If you live in Taiwan it is quiet easy to hear that but if you are american they probably will be polite and not saying swear words or “cow-yao” infornt of you. And in my opinion the town repesentive’s language is just right for him not exaggerating at all and his language brings out the true color of this character . I actally can think of people close to me who fit this character.

    I guess you perfer Wedding Banquet because the story point out issues that are more related to America at that time, gay issue, fake marriage in order to get green card and the question of it is really worth all the trouble to get green card etc….

    For me, I prefer Cape No. 7 because other than it been the fact that I am a Taiwanese, but the story line and the issue that it brings out.

    Through struggled Aga’s (main character) motor bike the movie introduces all sub-plots, each have their own issues and frustration. And it is easy to relate to these characters in real life.

    Aga: a country boy who fail to find success in big city decided to return to his home town.

    Tomoko: A girl who decided to stay in a foreign country because she believe there is a chance for her to success in that country.

    Uncle Mao (National treasure): An elderly who is prod of his talent and like to show people old doesn’t mean usless.

    Rauma: A man who is abandoned by his wife because he decidated of much into his work and forgot that life is not all about work.

    Frog: Secretly admire someone and know that there is no way that the relationship can progress.

    Dada: Cheeky kid who like to make fun of people in a subtle way (in this film through piano).

    Town council representive: who love his town so much and is frustruated that their town’s young people all gone to the big city. And hates other people come to develop the town but at the same time destory the natural beauty of the town.

    Dada’s mum: a woman who would hurt someone who really love her in order for a man, later to be betry by that man and is too shamful to see the person who loved her most.

    Malasun: a hard working man whom enthusiam moved people around him and decided to give him a helping hand.

    Through out the film it also reflect following:
    1. Taiwanese’s love-hate relationship towards Japanese

    2. Mutli-culturalism in Taiwan, it has Hakka people (Malasun), Hokken/Taiwanese people (most characters), Taiwanese PaiWan tribe aboriginals (Rauma), Japanese. It shows cultural conflict and union.

    3. Love conqure all … well … at lease find peace in oneself

    Yes, sub-plots seems to have too much screen time but this is how the director point out issues in Taiwan society. And you may say it seems that the director try to bring up too many issue but as he said it fit the concept of “Taiwan got everything” (good and bad).

    Sorry, I seem to make the same mistake as the director …. I take too much space up for sub-plots.

  14. Wendy permalink
    Wednesday, November 5, 2008 10:03 pm

    I have not watch Cape No.7 in English subtitle but I am sure any professional translator will have problem translating some of the phrase. Because the script writer added some sense of humor by playing with the word and pronouncation of Taiwanese language. And some words have very strong cultural meaning therefore it’s really hard to translate into one or two words.

    James 17930
    After reading your post I am really curious about the English subtitle now.

  15. Booglie Booglie Boo permalink
    Wednesday, December 3, 2008 4:19 am

    > Do you truly think that the translation was “atrociously done?”

    Trust me. They’re atrocious. She clearly doesn’t speak English. I don’t mind Chinglish subtitles with a bit of strangeness, but in this not a single sentence I saw translated properly. If only they paid her $500 to do them, they were the ones that got taken.

  16. James17930 permalink
    Friday, December 5, 2008 9:33 pm

    ^No, they’re really not that bad.

  17. karen permalink
    Saturday, December 13, 2008 9:54 pm

    I watched it and thought it was a great feel-good movie-very funny and moving. I think you have to watch it twice to appreciate more of the humor in it.

    The english subtitle on the version I watched is really really bad. I really dont know how many versions of english subs out there to do with this movie, but the one I’ve got I think was translated by Google or some kinda software. Having said that, understanding a bit of manderin did help me to guess what was spoken most of the time.

    Its worth to see the movie. You wont see bad guys nor greed and fear in it and that’s why I believe it has been so enjoyed by the masses.

    karen

  18. Narq permalink
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 3:09 am

    Well, you guys are all talking about how the translation from Taiwanese to English is bad… I reckon they didn’t grasp 100% Taiwanese (in the dialogue) to the subtitles in Mandarin!

  19. Jeff Stockton (Honolulu) permalink
    Tuesday, March 31, 2009 4:41 pm

    Interesting and unique movie, which people who don’t have knowledge about Taiwanese culture may not fully appreciate/understand.

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